Optional Practical Training (OPT) for certificate students
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) regulations governing Optional Practical Training (OPT) apply to all students in F-1 status.
Practical training is defined as, “paid employment directly related to your major area of study, following the completion of your academic degree.” Students in F-1 status must have been enrolled full time for at least nine consecutive months (one academic year) before they are eligible for Optional Practical Training.
To obtain a SEVIS form I-20 to apply for OPT
In order to receive your SEVIS Form I-20 authorizing OPT you must submit the following:
- Completion letter and transcript obtained from CABP’s academic advisor
- Academic advisor’s recommendation form
- Completed Form I-765
What should your OPT start date be?
Practical training must begin no later than 60 days following your semester end date. You may choose any date between the earliest and last OPT start date.
Post completion of OPT
A student in F-1 status may apply up to 90 days before the completion date or semester end date and up to 60 days after their completion date. Students must apply within 30 days of the creation of the OPT I-20 with OPT recommendation. Program completion refers to the date that you have finished all coursework and any capstone project, thesis, or dissertation for your degree. It is not your graduation date. There is no grace period for applying for OPT.
Optional practical training is limited to a total of 12 months. Students in certain STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields may be eligible for a one-time extension of 17 months of post completion OPT. There is a separate application for filing for this extension. Please speak with an ISSC advisor if you feel you may qualify for the extension.
Employment and unemployment
An offer of employment is not required to obtain approval for OPT. OPT is recommended by ISSC and authorized by the USCIS. During OPT no student may be unemployed for an aggregate of more than 90 days or their status will be put in jeopardy. For STEM students approved for the 17-month extension, the limit on unemployment is raised to an aggregate of no more then 120 days.
Students are required to report to ISSC within 10 days
- The beginning of employment, with the name and address of the employer
- The termination of employment
- Any change in your personal address
- Any change in your employers address
Due to a recent policy change within SEVP/ICE, international students on OPT are now required to report to their international student office the name and address of their employer while the student is participating in OPT.
Upon beginning employment, you must complete the OPT employment reporting form.
If you cannot find employment
Students who are unable to find full-time employment may look to the alternative options listed below to avoid reaching the aggregate 90 day unemployment limit (120 for STEM extension). Alternatives must be related to your field of study and can include:
- Volunteering for an organization
- Completing an unpaid internship
- Work part time
For these options, the student must work a minimum of 20 hours per week. Please note that students must still report to ISSC the beginning and end dates of these employment options.
You should keep records of your entire employment history.
Cap gap extension
Duration of status and work authorization will be automatically extended for a student on OPT who is the beneficiary of an H-1B petition that is filed in a timely manner requesting change of status and an employment start date of October 1 of the following fiscal year. This would apply to all qualified students on OPT, not just STEM students. The extension of duration of status and work authorization would automatically terminate upon the rejection, denial, or revocation of the H-1B petition filed on the student’s behalf.
F-1 students currently in the U.S., including students on OPT, are able to take advantage of this new provision.
Applying for the extension
If you feel you are eligible for the cap gap extension you will need to speak with an ISSC advisor. If you are eligible, you will need to submit documentation from USCIS to extend your OPT. The stage of the process you are at will determine what date your OPT can be extended to. The chart below describes the dates your OPT can be extended to and the document required for the extension:
OPT Extended to:
Status Valid To:
Receipt Notice (I-797C)
Approval Notice (I-797B)
Please note that if you have filed for the extension and your application is rejected, denied, or revoked during the extension period, your OPT authorization will end 10 days from the date of the denial. Your F-1 status will end 60 days from the denial date.
Studying while on OPT
Authorization for OPT is automatically terminated when you transfer your SEVIS record to another school or begin full-time study at a different educational level.
An application filed without the required fee, all the necessary documents, signature and photographs will be returned to you as incomplete. You may correct the deficiency and resubmit the application, however, an application is not considered properly filed until the USCIS accepts it. If your application is complete and filed at a USCIS Service Center, you will be mailed a Notice of Action Form I-797 receipt notice.
Decisions on your application
- Approval: If approved, your EAD card will be mailed to you at your filed address.
- Request for further information: If additional information or documentation is required, a written request will be sent to you requesting further specific information.
- Denial: If your application cannot be approved, you will receive a written notice explaining the basis of you denial. You can appeal by filing an appeal with a motion to reopen.
It will take the USCIS Vermont Service Center 2-3 months to process your request. Employment may not commence until you have obtained approval from the USCIS Vermont Service Center and you have received your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of State (DOS) agree that an F-1 student who has filed a timely application for OPT post-completion of study may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending, provided that the F-1 student can present the Notice of Action Form I-797 to demonstrate that the application has been filed.
However, once the EAD card for OPT is issued and an F-1 student decides to travel abroad, the student can only re-enter the United States to resume employment. DHS has clarified that the F-1 student does not need to have already begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer.
If you have recently applied for OPT and you do decide to travel, you will need the following documents for re-entry:
- SEVIS I-20 signed by the designated school officer at Baruch College
- Valid EAD card
- Unexpired passport
- Valid F-1 visa
- Letter from a U.S.-based employer certifying that you are returning to resume or commence employment
After you have received a notice from INS, and if you have any further questions regarding your application status, the number to the USCIS public inquiry phone is 1-800-375-5283.
Traveling during the “cap gap”
According to SEVP, a student on OPT who has his/her OPT automatically extended by USCIS because of an approved H1B application, would not qualify for an F1 visa unless the student has a valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD). If a student in this “Cap Gap”, whose EAD card is no longer valid, chooses for whatever reason to leave the U.S., he/she would have to apply for the H1B and would not be allowed to re-enter the U.S. until after September 1.